Friday, 28 December 2012

The Meals That Made 2012: Blog Round Up

It's that period between Christmas and New Year where you aren't really sure what day it is, often if it's afternoon or morning and all your meals have blurred into one long over indulgent haze of meat, cheese and Celebrations.

Putting that uncomfortably full feeling aside for one second, and in a bid to ignore the annual period of repentance otherwise known as January that is fast approaching, I've had a look back over my posts from the year and here's my collection of my favourite meals, the best new openings in Newcastle and things that have made me feel good about food.

9 Bar Coffee

9 Bar Coffee, Grey Street, Newcastle
Possibly my favourite new opening of the year, and definitely the place I've gone back to the most times (aside from maybe Slice), 9 Bar Coffee is now my regular weekend lunch stop for all things grilled cheese, large sausage and coffee related. The only issue we find now is managing to get a bloody table, but I still love its miniature interior and well designed Italian charms.

Brewdog Newcastle

Not a company known for being shy or retiring, Brewdogs opening early in the summer certainly made an impact, and not just on my liver and bank balance. The craft beer and real ale scene is ever popular in Newcastle, with more than a handful of places offering a well researched list of bottles and ales on tap. Whilst Brewdog might loose a few points for its lack of local choice, for a couple of months you would seldom find me anywhere else.

Jesmond Dene House

A change of pace and style for me, i.e. no burgers and pints, Jesmond Dene House was a night of luxury 'fine dining' in a league of its own in the north east. Melting chocolate spheres, tender beef fillets and our own stylish secret hideaway in the eaves, i'd recommend it to anyone looking for something a little special. Next year I will definitely try their afternoon tea.

Caffe Vivo

Caffe Vivo is now my favourite restaurant in Newcastle. Well it's maybe tied with The Broad Chare, but either way it has become a steadfast choice after taking a little trip for my birthday and trying their 1kg sharing steak. We couldn't resist going back a few weeks later and found the lamb chops, and venison ragu just as pleasing, not to forget the huge ice cream coppas and cicchetti. It is the perfect mix of wonderful, refreshing flavours and food in a laid back atmosphere. When I see the rich quayside bankers dining in their at lunch whilst i'm off to Tesco to buy a can of tomato soup it almost makes me think I should sell my soul and work in insurance.

The Grazer's Pop-up Supper Club

And finally for something completely different, I absolutely loved Anna (The Grazer's) pop up supper club in the newly opened Ouse Street Art's Club. Like this years Urban Night Feast, it showed that the north east really is an interesting and exciting place for food and drink. Using the Joe Beef cookbook we are both huge fans of as inspiration, Anna cooked up pulled pork, special beans, apple chips and a smorgasbord of starters all in the cosy confines of some shipping containers.

Let me know what you're favourite openings and places to visit were in 2012, and where I should be trying in 2013. 

Monday, 24 December 2012

Review: Red Mezze, Leazes Place, Newcastle

After receiving the new Ottolenghi book a couple of months back, and his latest TV show of Mediterranean feasts, i've been lusting after middle eastern and arabic cooking all the time. Everything we've made from the book has been incredible, the latest being a delicious, if not exactly authentic, shakshuka.

The one thing however we can't capture in our little kitchen is the authentic flavour of cooking over charcoal which is essential to so many of the meat and fish dishes. I don't think i'd be the only one to agree with the statement that all meat cooked over charcoal tastes better, has more flavour from a good charred coating and is incredibly succulent. It's the reason *that steak* at Caffe Vivo was so unbelievable.

Of all the restaurants that have been around in Newcastle since I vist moved here just over four years ago, Red Mezze a Turkish restaurant, is one of the few i've been wanting to try for most of that time. As a confused and emotionally distressed first year I would regular walk past, and see a slice, as thin as the Georgian terrace it is housed in, of the culturally interesting life that the city could one day offer me, before descending the grimmy stairs into the under belly of cheap trebles.

Turkish food is people food, not person food. French and English food is like sitting on the tube and avoiding eye contact with anyone and sticking to your designated space, turkish food is like a house part at 2am, when you realise you're not actually sure you know anyone but they're giving you some strange spirit to drink and you think 'whats the worst that could happen....'. It's sociable, open, busy and friendly.

The dishes come out, you share, you chat, you have a drink, then you repeat, trying a bit of everything along the way. We had both the cold and hot mezze. The hot had falafel, a spicy Turkish sausage, hellim (pan fried goats cheese), muska boregi (filo pasty filled with feta and dill), avec boregi (meat pasty parcels with parsley). The cold, which was my preference, had hummus, broad beans, cacik (yoghurt with cucumber and dill) and this incredible kisir that tasted like a middle eastern salsa and was made up of bulgar wheat, peppers, onions tomatoes, parsley, lemon juice and olive oil.

I didn't really survey the menu, the restaurant staff are all very friendly but also very efficient so I picked the mixed grill without really thinking. The waiter did make suggestions which is always good if you're unsure how/what/how many to order. Next time, I'm going to ask for a selection of everything they think makes a good Turkish meal, rather than just a huge plate of lovely meat.

Although this was a beautiful plate of meat; all cooked over a wood charcoal fire in the traditional manner and plated up very simply with a salad and some rice. There was wonderfully tender shish lamb and chicken, adana (mince lamb blended with herbs) that had interesting layers of flavour and spice, then a perfectly cooked lamb cutlet.

If you're ever in the centre of town, looking for an informal, fun and very good value lunch (mixed grill is £12.95) Red Mezze is definitely worth a look in. Take a group and try a bit of everything.

Red Mezze is at 36 Leazes Park Road, NE1 4PG. You can reach them on 0191 261 9646.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Barbour Guest Blog Post: Pork Cheek Chilli Ragu

I recently got asked by Barbour to write a guest blog post for them. With all the very wintery weather we've been having recently I thought this 4 hour slow cooked pig cheek ragu was just the thing. 

In life, there are two kinds of people: summer people and winter people. In Britain, summer people are always left tragically disappointed, no matter how hopelessly optimistic they may be. Winter people however have no such worries: Britain was made for the cold, the frost and the occasional snow.

Every year, when the first of September comes around, I get filled with what I like to term ‘Autumn Joy’ and look forward to months of being able to cocoon myself in knits, scarves and knee high socks. The days might be brisk but everything looks prettier; when the piles of crisp brown leaves have long blown away there is the silver tipped icy coating to look forward to.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Review: The Red House, Quayside, Newcastle

Menus that offer only one or two dishes are the current trend in new restaurant openings. London has the likes of Burger and Lobster, The Tramshed or recently opened Wishbone Chicken that specialise in one or two dishes, but even with the strongest will of the world (and mine's pretty bloody strong) lobsters or gourmet hot dogs with champagne won't exactly fit into the Newcastle restaurant scene over night. 

The Red House offers the kind of slim lined menu the North can get behind - ales and pie. 

The Red House, Newcastle
Opened in a historic old pub on the quayside the interior has been restored faithfully but with plenty of on-trend touches that take very liberal idea of 'inspiration'. Think low filament light bulbs, battered old chairs and those bloody blue rimmed falcon enamel dishes. It's a warren of rooms, tucked away down corridors and passageways, with large log fires and wood burners which are perfect if you wanted to hide from the world on a winter day. The option to hire and book tables or rooms makes it a good option for large groups and parties.

Backroom at The Red House, Newcastle

Back to their 'inspiration' for a second, I couldn't help but note the similarities between the menu at Honest Burger in Brixton (which by the way is INCREDIBLE) and that of The Red House.

Not that that is particularly important, and it's only weirdo restaurant nerds like me who would notice things like this anyway. So the premise is pretty simple, pie, mash peas and liquor and a bar stocked with ales on tap and a good variety of bottles. What's not to like?

Would it affect how you see The Red House if you realised it wasn't in fact a newly independent pub but part of one of the largest chains of bars and restaurants in the north east? To many this wouldn't even be a consideration, but definitely made me look at the place a little differently, although you also have to think that without big investment buildings like this couldn't be restored and enjoyed again.

I went for a pint of Allendale and a steak and ale pie with creamy mash, minted peas and meat gravy (£6.95) saving the very traditional parsley liquor for another day. The mash, whilst creamy, hadn't been blended into some indistinguishable baby food paste and maintained the texture of real potatoes, and made with plenty of butter. The pies, from Amble Butchers, were top quality and full of a rich and tender beef sourced from local Northumberland farms. The 'meaty gravy' was a little on the watery side, but the jus from the pie was thick and flavoursome.

Pie, mash and peas at The Red House, Newcastle
 The good pub scene in Newcastle is becoming increasingly busy (my favourites here); with more than a handful of places offering craft beers and specialist ales, so it's good to see The Red House offering something the others don't. But, dare I say it, is a pie-exclusive menu too northern for most?

The Red House is 32 Sandhill, Quayside, Newcastle, NE1 3JF. You can get them on @theredhousencl.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Wishbone Chicken, Brixton Village & DIY Fried Chicken Recipe

I tried to explain the idea of posh fried chicken to someone at my work the other day, but further than saying they used nice, well reared free range chicken and flavoursome sauces I did get a bit stuck. Yes, it is still deep fried, yes it is still messy and yes it will still make you fat. But, god it has to be one of the best guilty pleasures. And this is coming from someone who’s never even sampled KFC.

I was in London last weekend with buffalo wings and korean fried chicken firmly in my sights at the recently opened Wishbone Chicken on Market Row in Brixton Village. Given I was in London for all of two nights and had specifically requested a Brixton night out with the idea of getting chicken as well as many other things in my belly, I was more than a little disappointed to find Wishbone had had a power cut and weren't serving any food. So instead I decided to drink all the cocktails and all the wine. And then some of the beer too, just so I definitely felt like death the next day. 

Wishbone specialise in sours which were all dangerously drinkable, even a port and egg sours. I mean if there's ever been a old man perverts cocktail it has to be that. I stuck to the more classic combo of gin and pisco, no egg, on the rocks. We did manage to sample a rather tasty jerk chicken scotch egg, and in retrospect probably should have smashed a few more of them in before starting on the white wine at Seven, a lovely tapas and cocktail bar opposite. If you find yourself in London and want a relaxed night out, heavy on both good food (well not for me) and good drinks, Brixton Village is definitely worth a look. 

Anyway, so after my chickenless night out I had to go about making my own. And when I say make my own, get the other half to make it to cheer me up on a dreary tuesday night once I was back north. You have to give yourself a little bit of prep time and get over any paranoid fears of burning hot oil, but aside from that its not too tricky. 

DIY Fried Chicken 

Serves 2 
6 free range chicken thighs
200ml buttermilk
1 tsp salt
150g flour
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp mustard powder
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp salt
1 tsp oregano

1. You need to start at least 5 hours in advance by marinating your chicken in buttermilk and 1 tsp of salt to make it tender and juicy. Make sure the chicken is well coated and leave in the fridge for up to 8 hours.

2. Mix together the spices, herbs and flour until evenly combined. When the chicken has marinated and you are ready to cook, wipe off any excess buttermilk then coat thoroughly in the flour mixture.

3. You will need to heat up oil. I am a nervous deep fryer but so far nothing has gone wrong *touches all the wood*, take a large, deep sided pan and heat until it reaches 170 degrees. This can be difficult to judge so it really is best to get a cooking thermometer (we didn’t and used bread to judge which isn’t ideal).

4. Put the chicken in one layer in the pan, you don’t want to over crowd it so doing this in two batches might be best, depending how meaty your thighs are. Cover, turn the heat down to low and cook for 6 minutes, turn and cook for a further 6 minutes.

5. When the chicken has evenly browned on either side, remove from the pan and place on a rack in an oven on a low heat for 5 minutes. This will let it dry and get super crisp.

We served ours with coleslaw and paprika wedges and lots and lots of kitchen towel. 

Popolo Review for Social and Cocktail

I've written some words over for the nice folks at Social and Cocktail, a site all about good drinks and even better bars. 

With a slick 1960s vibe, all red and white leather, a pinboard for the drinks menus and old movie posters,Popolo stands out amongst the deluge of cheap trebles bars and ‘Geordie Shore’ hangouts as one of the best place to drink in a town that’s renowned for its thirst.

Part of a small chain around the North, Popolo is firmly established as a destination for good cocktails in Newcastle, having an extensive list and bartenders more than capable of knocking you up something a little more adventurous. On my last visit, I asked for something ‘fun’ and ended up with a Corpse Reviver #2 and certainly left feeling enlivened if nothing else.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Dining in the Dark at The Living Room, Newcastle

A couple of years ago when I was in Berlin at the start of my travels across Europe we thought about going to a restaurant we'd heard about where you had to eat in the dark as it apparently increased your taste sensation of the food. Of course we went out and got drunk instead and considered eating take away chips in the street in the dark ALMOST the same thing and forgot all about it. So I was rather intrigued to receive an invitation to a dining in the dark dinner event at The Living Room on Grey Street in Newcastle.

I hadn't quite realised when I attended that I wasn't simply going to get to eat some nice food in the dark, this was apparently serious quizzing time. After eating each item we had to answer various questions about it. I didn't do terribly, getting over half, but I didn't win either. As a 'food blogger' I suppose I should feel a little ashamed at my lack of distinguished palette. I'll blame it on all those burgers and ribs i've been eating lately.

Moroccan Lamb at The Living Room,  pictures supplied by PR

I wouldn't say eating without being able to see meant I could taste the food any better although the quiz element did mean you had to consider the flavours and ingredients more. There is certainly something unsettling about putting unknown things into your mouth, no one really likes surprises in that area do they. Luckily most of the dishes were pleasant, particularly the pork and chorizo burger and the Moroccan lamb both of which are on The Living Room's new menu.

Pork and Chorizo Burger
Although a fun night with a healthy dose of competition, food isn't just about taste, it is intended to be visual (as the beautiful shot pictures supplied by the PR prove), we get enjoyment from the intricate plating of a dish and beautiful presentation and being blind folded meant you missed out on all of that. Whilst you might  have a heightened sense of taste, that doesn't necessarily mean it's tastier, and that's the most important thing surely.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

The Grazer's Joe Beef Inspired Pop up Supper Club

A couple of weeks back I dragged myself and the other half out of our cosy flat on a saturday night with the proposition of eating dinner with some strangers in a shipping container. Whilst he was imagining some sort of terrible scene from season 2 of The Wire I assured him the evening would be much more civilised than that.

Anna of The Grazer was hosting a pop up supper club in the newly created Ouseburn Arts Club, housed in two rather cosy shipping containers. A Joe Beef inspired pop up. You know how much I love that cook book (see previous posts here and here) so she wasn't at all surprised when I booked in for my places. I wasn't the only one keen for pork and a couple of hours later and all the places had gone.

After hot toddies and introductions we sat down to a smorgasbord of home made delights, including the infamous Joe Beef beer cheese, which was totally delicious, home cured salami, potato salads, pickles, and my favourite the rollmop mackerel, so succulent with a light tanginess.

The main event is a Joe Beef Classics and one which i'd tried at home complete with my take on their BBQ sauce. Everyone has gone CRAZY about pulled pork recently and three huge joints of pork shoulder had been happily cooking away for the last 9 hours, specially delivered half way through the night. Served with BBQ sauce, rather amazing beans (when I tried this recipe they turned out very odd), soft white rolls and an apple and seed coleslaw.

The night was rounded off with coffee, and selection of delightful little puddings; a chocolate and hazelnut pot, some rather boozy jelly, cinnamon apple crisps and little pumpkin muffins. The food was as well prepared and presented as you would imagine if you've ever read Anna's blog, i.e. incredible, but it was all the lovely little touches in an unusual setting that got me, the incredible wood burning stove, and candle lit table and at the end of the room an old animation made out of silhouettes was projected and really created a warm wintery feeling about the place and made for a rather unique saturday night. 

Anna's hosting the events once a month, look out for announcements on her twitter  but you'll have to be quick the next is already sold out!

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

In Search of Clever TV Cooking or Why Eggs Shouldn't Go Through Sieves

Questions that I regularly think when watching cookery shows, and know I'm not alone as I see them repeated on twitter, are why does it always have to be about fast and simple recipes or super quick and easy suppers?

Lots of people that watch cookery shows will want simple recipes that answer the problem of week night dinners, but then lots of people that watch cookery shows don't actually want to cook either. We hear about all these people watching Nigella and the like whilst sitting down to their microwave meals, surely if the majority have no intention of actually making a recipe but simply want entertainment they'd be happy seeing something rather fantastical being created. After all, hardly any of us would attempt to make our own marshmallow tea cakes but the Great British Bake Off seems popular enough.

Even if this were too specific an interest for the main channels week night out put you might think you could find something of this ilk on the Food Network or similar but there it's even more dire with all sorts of INSANE American chefs. I saw a woman dressing a salad by pushing a boiled egg through a sieve the other day. an egg. through a sieve. onto a salad. just think about that for a minute.

The latest in this string of mind numbingly simple cookery shows is Jamie's 15 Minute Meals. If i hear Jamie Oliver say wazz, wooz or any other made up words whilst using a blender again I will scream. We are adults, we understand how machines work, you do not have to talk to us like we are babies. I'm also adult enough to know that if I want something nice I won't be able to make my dinner in 15 minutes, I have electric hobs, my pans are sort of dodgy, NOTHING HEATS UP THAT FAST.

Whilst I'm ranting, I may as well go all out, do you know what else gets right on my goat?  'O this is a super simple week night dinner, all I need is a can of chick peas, and this duck breast I just had lying around in the fridge', said no one in the real world, ever. It might be a quick dinner but i'm pretty sure most of us won't just have some duck breasts left over in the fridge, and most probably can't shell out on these for your average week night dinner. Yes Nigel Slater although I actually quite like your show, I am looking at you.

If i'm interested enough to watch food tv, it's likely I also want to eat good food. Obviously not in every case but good food often takes longer to make and cook than 15 minutes and do you know what, that's ok with me.

So what i'm looking for is a cookery programme that goes into the detail of cooking, the method and science behind why some things work and others won't, interesting recipes that take some time to prepare, or slow cooked dishes that might not be complex but are perfect for lazy sunday afternoons. Sure this might not be week night cooking but why does it have to be? It's alright to admit, this is a recipe you'll maybe only want to do twice a year but when you do it will be incredible or you'll have to get your ingredients ready the day before but you're an organised grown up, it's likely you've got the good sense to manage that.

I'll admit this isn't your mainstream food show, but it must be time for some intelligent cooking.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Recipe: Double Glazed Sticky Ribs

For a while now i've been fighting my overcoming rib compulsion and i'm afraid to say it's a loosing battle. They are undoubtably my favourite thing to cook at the moment, and after a couple of attempts I think i've perfected a pretty easy little recipe to knock up some sticky, glazed strips of goodness, plus a BBQ sauce that is great for all sorts of stuff and keeps in the fridge for around two weeks. I hate manufactured, artificial tasting BBQ sauce that you get in bad pubs but this is a fool-proof recipe and meant I had to buy both coke and ketchup FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER.

One of the pluses of this new inclination is that ribs are one of the cheapest cuts of meat you can buy, although unfortunately I couldn't find any baby back ribs. Baby back ribs are taken from the top of the rib cage, between the spine and the spare ribs, are shorter and more curved and usually have much more juicy meat on them as the meat is both in between and on top of the bones. Spare ribs, which are what you will usually find, are taken from the belly side of the rib cage, below the section of back ribs and above the sternum. I always have a poke around to make sure i'm getting the meatiest rack, like a sleazy man in a nightclub.

I got home with all the ingredients to make these with more than a little inspiration from my favourite recipe book at the moment Joe Beef which i've told you about before. Ribs are really easy to prepare, i've tried them at a few different temperatures but low and slow is definitely best, just rub em up and stick em in for a couple of hours before the glazing begins. I recently picked up this marvellous little compendium when I visited Barter Books so expect many more classic American dishes.

There's only one essential bit of prep to remember, and if you don't like pulling animal sinew with your bare hands then well, you won't like this. On the bottom side of your rack there is a pale whiteish thin membrane, find an edge and pull it a little and get a butter knife or equivalent underneath and prise it off - after you've got the initial bits off this should come away easily although you do have to grip quite hard.

Sticky double glazed ribs
Double Glazed BBQ Ribs


A rack of ribs
1 tbsp paprika
1 tbsp garlic powder
1/2 tbsp Colman's dry mustard powder
2 tbsp black pepper
1/2 ground bay leaf
1 tbsp of smoked sea salt
half a bottle of beer

240ml coca cola
250ml ketchup
60ml cider vinegar
2 tbsp dark brown sugar
1 tsp of instant coffee
1 tsp tabasco
1 tsp chilli powder
salt and pepper

1. Start by heating your oven to 165 degrees c. Mix together the paprika, garlic powder, dry mustard powder, black pepper, smoked salt and bay leaf (I had to sort of tear up a whole bay leaf which had mixed results) and coat the ribs on both sides with the spices. Put the ribs in a roasting tin and pour in the beer, then cover with foil and put in the oven for 2 hours.

2. Make the BBQ sauce by adding all the ingredients into a pan on a low heat and leave to simmer away. I found it took around 45 minutes for this to adequately thicken up.

3. When the ribs have been in for 2 hours, take off the foil and baste them with a thick coating of the BBQ sauce and put back in the oven. Repeat again 15 minutes later to build up a gorgeous sticky coating.

And don't make the same foolish error as I did, buy a rack per person.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Recipe: French Toast & Caramelised Banana Breakfast

When I think about the best way to start a weekend morning, i've always been partial to a full English fry up; bacon, sausages, eggs, beans, hash browns, beans, fried bread, toast, tea, possibly a few mushrooms if i'm really going wild.

The problem with this however is that I can't have a fry up without setting myself some sort of grotesque eating challenge, then rolling around for the next two hours clutching my belly and feeling a bit disgusting.

See, and I haven't even given myself hash browns here, just 4 slices of fried bread.

English Fry up
Recently I've gone off the idea of a morning fry up, making me sluggish for the rest of the day and have been trying out a few lighter, although in no way healthier, starts to the day.

A few of my favourite breakfasts are..

Bacon and cream cheese bagels. all time favourite. 

Scrambled eggs on brown, latte and freshly squeezed orange juice
 at Oklahoma in Manchester's Northern Quarter

Fresh fruit, yoghurt & honeycomb

HK Muffin minus the bread, champion breakfast

This weekend i've been wanting to treat myself, i've been ill all week and still feel rough now. This french toast with caramelised bananas feels like it should be a dessert, a plate of sweet, sticky indulgence and is just what I needed to cheer myself up, and like any good breakfast is nice and simple to make.

A cafetiere and 6 music are the recommended serving suggestions.

French Toast & Caramelised Bananas

French Toast & Caramelised Bananas

Serves 2

8 slices of soft white bread

3 eggs

Splash of milk

Tsp of ground cinnamon

2 bananas

1 tbsp of soft brown sugar

Knob of butter

Oil for frying

1. Take a small frying pan, add the knob of butter and set to a medium heat, get a large frying pan add oil and also set to a medium heat.

2. Crack and beat your eggs with the splash of milk and cinnamon.

3. Slice your bananas and add to the small frying pan and leave to fry in the butter for 2 minutes, then add the brown sugar and leave to caramelise, stirring occasionally on a low heat.

4. Dip each slice of the white bread into the egg mixture, then place in the hot oil and fry until golden on each side. You don't want it to burn so make sure the oil doesn't get too hot, it should take a couple of minutes on each side. You will probably have to do this in 2 or 3 batches.

5. Plate up the french toast, spoon over the caramelised banana and if you're really indulging your sweet tooth some golden or maple syrup. Serve with a slice of lemon.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Fries & Dolls Filthy Sandwiches, Quayside Market, Newcastle

I want to talk to you about filthy food. Dirty, greasy, sexy sandwiches that ooze their juices all over you. There's few things more pleasurable than eating something that makes you feel so disgustingly guilty.

Filthy food is the 'thing' at the moment, what with all the ribs, burgers and fried chicken places that seem to be opening (sadly not up north) plying us with all those foods we were told not to eat when younger. Given that having those cans of beans which had tiny sausages in was considered a treat when I was younger, the filthy sandwiches I discovered this weekend would have been some serious contraband.

Saturday night had been spent at Tusk Festival, a face shredding experience of noise and gin and sunday morning I was in a bad place, wanting nothing more than to spend 3 weeks in a silent room. After recovering enough to both dress and wash myself I was overcome with autumn joy at the beautiful weather, the fact I could once walk again and that I was heading to the quayside after having been tipped off about some dirty sandwiches.

At this point I was craving, needing, something greasy to sit in my fragile stomach and did a little cry at the idea of fries, slaw, melted cheese, pancetta and salami in a sandwich. Fries and Dolls must be a new pitch at the Quayside market, run by a friendly young girl, but seemed to be popular having sold out of pulled BBQ chicken, and stood out with its quirky 50s decor and bright pink tent.

The sandwiches were all prepared fresh, with fries made in a little chip pan, all hot and crispy and more than a little greasy (a good thing obvs). Thick slices of soft white bloomer, salad, slaw and fries are standard then your choice of meat. The other half, who was also in a bad way, had a reuben which although lacking in lots of its classic element was definitely a hit. My pancetta and salami number disappeared in a minutes.

The filthy sandwich and autumn sunshine combo has secured its place on my must-have hangover cures.

Fries and Dolls was at the Sunday Quayside Market. I was in no state to find out any more details than that, sorry. 

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Recipe: Ultimate Mac n Cheese of Joy

I haven't written a recipe post in ages, I was diverted off course with the allure of restaurants and the demands of my then day job stealing all my good recipes. But, I made this mac n cheese the other weekend, after lying around hungover all day needing some serious comfort food and it definitely hit the spot and knew I should share the love.

This mac n cheese is perfect autumn food, warming, creamy and indulgent - look at that crispy, golden top and oozing buttery, cheesy goodness underneath. It's such a simple recipe, and i've never worked out the proper quantities for a bechamel before, but this produced a lovely, creamy but not too rich sauce. Of course you could jazz it up with some roquefort, or lumps of stilton but I was hungover and unwilling to go to the shop.

So stick on some big socks and a thick knit and settle in with a dish for the night. Ridiculous as it might seem, we ate this entire thing in one go (total fatties), so learn from our mistake and make double because you'll be craving it the next day too.

Mac n Cheese of Joy

Serves 2 

40g plain flour

40g butter

350ml full fat milk

260g macaroni

170g good quality mature cheddar, grated

4 - 6 rashers of streaky bacon, chopped

Grated nutmeg

Salt and pepper to season

1. Pre-heat the oven to 190 deg C and stick your macaroni on to cook - you're not idiots you can follow the packet for those instructions - but drain it just before it's done.

2. Start making your bechamel sauce. Melt the butter in a saucepan, add the flour and stir to a paste making sure the flour is cooked. Gradually add the milk, stirring continually to keep the sauce smooth. Add most of the cheese and make sure it's melted through. Do not eat the remaining cheese.

3. Fry the bacon until crispy and add to the cheese sauce. Season with salt and pepper.

4. Mix the sauce through the drained pasta and add to a baking dish, top with the rest of the cheese. Put in the oven for around 25 minutes but you just want to make sure the top is golden and crispy.

Enjoy - with beer if you're not still too hungover.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Review: Brown's Restaurant, Newcastle, Grey Street

Often you might read a restaurant review which lays into a place, points at ludicrously ridiculous flavour combinations on menus and you sort of think, that reviewer already knew that meal would probably be terrible but did it because we all know bad reviews are so much more entertaining to read than good ones. Now i'm not a self serving food masochist, but about half way through my meal at the recently opened Browns on Grey Street in Newcastle I thought 'o well this is going to be an amusing review to write.'

And then perhaps an even worse sign than that, I completely forgot i'd even eaten there until I recently read a similarly non-plussed review over on Newcastle Eats. As an aside, if you've ever come here foolishly thinking you'd get a balanced, considered opinion on Newcastle restaurants, food events and news, you're in the wrong place, head to that site instead.

As a chain restaurant and somewhere that i'd normally avoid like the plague, i'm not really sure why we even thought going for lunch at Browns would be a good idea. It seems almost unfair to criticise it as there wasn't anything necessarily wrong with the meal, it's just everything about the place makes me feel so wearily depressed. And then I think about the small places with personality, that make one high street distinguishable from another one, struggling and going out of business and I think fuck, that's what's really unfair.

So the food wasn't terrible at Browns - if it was these places wouldn't survive, they have to be consistently average - the chips were actually good (see I said one nice thing) I had a minute steak, cooked to order but lacked any flavour with a wedge of fridge cold, artificial lemon butter and some wilted, tired salad leaves. The other half had the burger, which although not cooked pink, was ok, terrible bread and came with a side of gherkins much to his pleasure. I'm sure the cocktails might be half decent, the bar kitted out to look like some 1960s New York affair, but I ordered a latte, what appeared was a crime against coffee and I stared at it, looked out the window at 9 bar and felt dirty.

It's not even the food that bothers me the most about these places, it's that they're so fucking sterile, plastic plants and shit photography in black and white to make it appear 'arty'. The service is always polite but you know they have some corporate policy to follow, so the words they're saying aren't even their own.

But this is obviously what most people want, otherwise they wouldn't be everywhere, I just wish they knew what they were missing out on.

Browns is at 51 Grey Street, Newcastle, you can find there website here

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Jerusalem, Recipe Book by Yotam Ottolenghi, Sami Tamimi

I recently wrote a post about some of my favourite recipe books, and although these covered a wide range of different varieties and styles of cooking I think they all have a common theme. They are more than recipe books, they tell stories. And not just about food, about people - who we are and how we interact and our cultural history. 

The new book from famed chef Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, Jerusalem, is a magnificent book which tells the rich tapestry of the cities history through its dishes, flavours and ingredients. Having both grown up in the city at the same time but Sami on the Arab east and Yotam on the Jewish west  it really is a fascinating portrait of a very complex city. 

As well as the detailed introduction which explains a little about the history and passion of the region, all the recipes come with short passages of explanation and the relaxed narrative style means you could  be absorbed without the slightest intention of doing any cooking. 

This is just what I like in a recipe book, I want to be able to pick it up, flick through it and feel like i'm learning more than just the correct weights and measures for making a quiche. The recipe book market is seriously crowded and most of what is published is repeated recipes on tired themes. I can't say I know a lot about cooking from this part of the world and it makes me want to learn more especially because dishes typical to this region that most readers might know a little something about - kugel, bagels, strudel - are left out.

I own Ottolenghi's previous book, Plenty, and although is a beautiful book, full of many interesting dishes, I've mainly used it for inspiration and ideas having barely made a full recipe from it. I never found it that accessible (and not just because it was vegetarian food) so wondered how i'd fare with Jerusalem.

Although there are still many unusual spices and herbs, and this is after all why Ottolenghi is loved, there were instantly many recipes that caught my eye and I thought 'I have to make that NOW'.

After a trip our to stock up on what appeared to be essentials for any meal in the book - tahini, za'atar and sumac (and if anyone knows a good source of affordable saffron, do let me know) - I made Na'ama's Fattoush, a chopped salad with stale bread and a homemade buttermilk dressing and Kofta b'siniyah, meatballs with a tahini sauce. Both were absolutely delicious and really easy to make. This is homely, sociable food, to be shared on large platters with lots of drinks.

Fattoush and Kofta B'siniyah from Jerusalem

Jerusalem as you'd expect of any Ottolenghi book is, of course, beautifully put together with lots of enticing photography and a lovely cloth finish on the cover. Hopefully the other halves mother doesn't read my blog, because i'm definitely buying her a copy of Jerusalem for Christmas.

Jerusalem is published by Ebury publishing and is available to buy now, RRP £27.